Courts

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Brazen Gun Theft Suspect Pleads Guilty, Most Weapons Still Unaccounted for

Posted By on Sun, May 19, 2019 at 8:25 AM

One of the stolen guns was used in the shooting of a University Police Department officer in 2017. - FILE
  • File
  • One of the stolen guns was used in the shooting of a University Police Department officer in 2017.
The Eureka man with an outlaw name who was behind a brazen gun theft at Pacific Outfitters nearly four years ago was recently sentenced to 33 months in prison after pleading guilty to the crime in federal court.

Jesse James Marquez was 19 when he cut power lines to the sporting goods store in August of 2015 to dismantle the alarm before breaking in through a skylight and proceeding to make off with the trove of 55 handguns that had been stored in a cabinet. Two weeks, later he took off to Oregon.

Since then, only 17 of the weapons have been recovered, according to the Eureka Police Department, with most found during criminal investigations — several drug-related from Southern Humboldt to Oregon and even out east in Georgia.

One was brandished by Ervin Eugene Sweat Jr. when he nearly killed University Police Department officer Louis Altic, who was shot in the leg in September of 2017 after responding to the Arcata Plaza on reports of a fight involving an armed suspect. Sweat was killed when Altic and another officer returned fire.

“In addition to the prison term, Judge Breyer sentenced Marquez to a three-year term of supervised release and ordered Marquez to pay restitution to Pacific Outfitters in the amount of $56,600,” a Department of Justice press release states.

The brash crime was one of the main reasons then Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills proposed an ordinance — which he withdrew days later amid a public backlash — that would require gun owners and sellers within city limits to lock up their weapons when they weren’t home or a business was closed.

“People have the right to bear arms but that’s just the point — to bear arms. Not to leave them lying around unprotected,” Mills said at the time. “[The ordinance was] written specifically so if someone is home or at their business, they can have all the guns they want lying about, because they're in control of their firearms. It has nothing to do with ‘when somebody goes to bed at night, can they have a gun on their nightstand?’ Of course they can. This is America.”


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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

County Counsel Suit Alleges Conspiracy in Legal Billings; Supes Approve $1.4M in Retro Payments, New Contract with Law Firm

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 2:21 PM

Jeffrey Blanck - COUNTY OF HUMBOLDT
  • County of Humboldt
  • Jeffrey Blanck
The county’s head attorney has filed a civil lawsuit against two fellow top administrators, an outside attorney and her Bay Area-based law firm alleging they conspired against him when he tried to expose excessive billing practices.

According to Jefferey Blanck’s lawsuit, bills from Liebert Cassidy Whitmore “increased three-fold” from 2016 to 2018 — from $137,000 to $353,000 — due to Human Resources Director Lisa DeMatteo's practice of sending routine matters to the firm’s partner Suzanne Solomon, bypassing the county counsel’s office.

He gave as examples a more than $6,000 bill “to draft a simple termination letter” and $8,000 paid to handle an arbitration issue “over a $300 dispute.”

Blanck also alleges that County Administrative Officer Amy Nielsen allowed this to take place and that when he tried to bring those costs and an issue with the legitimacy of the firm’s contract to the board of supervisors, the defendants “orchestrated” his removal.

Blanck, who has been on paid administrative leave since March, is asking for an unspecified amount of damages in the legal action filed April 25, which states that he has suffered emotional distress and economic harm due to the defendants’ actions.

Meanwhile, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday retroactively approved $1.4 million in legal payments to Liebert Cassidy Whitmore dating back to 2008.  A staff report from DeMatteo’s office states that “due to administrative oversight” the county's agreement with the firm was never brought to the board but  instead was signed only by the former personnel director, although the services and payments continued for 11 years.

Passed without comment by the board as part of the consent agenda, the item also included a new contract — running from May 7 to June 30, 2020 — with a “maximum payable amount of $150,000” for services related to “labor negotiations, administrative proceedings and legal advice on special employment projects.”

According the 14-page listing of the firm’s $1.4 million in charges since 2008, the county has already paid Liebert Cassidy Whitmore nearly $200,000 this year.

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Dunaway Paroled 25 Years After Amber Slaughter Murder

Posted By on Sun, May 5, 2019 at 11:48 AM

Amber Slaughter with her grandfather. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Amber Slaughter with her grandfather.
Thomas Jerome Dunaway is a free man, released from prison some 25 years after participating in the execution-style murder of a 14-year-old Eureka girl.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Dunaway was paroled last month to the San Francisco area. While Dunaway had faced life in prison for the 1994 murder of Amber Slaughter on South Jetty, Francine Schulman told a parole board late last year she’d forgiven Dunaway for her daughter’s killing and wanted to see him released from prison. After extensively questioning Dunaway about the remorse he feels and what he’s done to change his life since entering prison as a teenager for a crime he committed while 17 and legally still a juvenile, the board deliberated for about 20 minutes before recommending he be paroled.

It was the second time the board had recommended Dunaway for parole. The first recommendation, made in 2017, was reversed by then Gov. Jerry Brown, who said Dunaway had remained violent through his early years in prison and didn’t express sufficient remorse for or insight into his actions. Current Gov. Gavin Newsom, however, declined to intervene.

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Friday, May 3, 2019

Judge Denies Placement of Sex Offender in Eureka

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 3:00 PM

A picture of hearing attendees from Watson's Facebook page. - EPD CHIEF STEVE WATSON
  • EPD Chief Steve Watson
  • A picture of hearing attendees from Watson's Facebook page.
Judge John Feeney today decided against approving plans to have a man deemed by the courts to be a sexually violent predator placed under supervised release in Eureka, according to media reports and a Facebook post by Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson.

The proposed placement would have had Joshua Cooley staying in a rotating set of motels, moving every four days or so, under the supervision of Liberty Healthcare.

In his post, Watson thanked the judge for listening to community concerns and noted that more than 50 people attended the hearing.

“Judge Feeney also indicated in his decision that he felt Cooley’s case presented extraordinary circumstances supporting his placement in another county upon his release from the state hospital (where D.A. Fleming argued he should remain and I agree),” Watson wrote. “A status review has been set for May 24 and a placement review for July 19.”

Feeney has made similar findings two previous time. He blocked Cooley’s release to Garberville last month and before that found that a rural Freshwater neighborhood was not a suitable placement.

There was also community opposition in both of those cases.

Cooley was committed to the hospital on his Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) designation in 2010 after serving prison time for sexually assaulting a minor. After an appeal, his petition for release was granted in December of 2016, with the search for a suitable placement site taking place over the last 20 months.

Read more about the SVP designation process in the Journal’s Aug. 20, 2015, story “Free and Afraid.”

Read the Facebook post by Chief Steve Watson below:


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Friday, April 12, 2019

Release of Sex Offender to Garberville Denied

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 2:31 PM

Humboldt County Courthouse - FILE
  • file
  • Humboldt County Courthouse
Multiple media outlets are reporting that Judge John Feeney today denied the placement of a man deemed by the courts to be a sexually violent predator for the second time in less than a year, this time to Garberville.

However, according to a Times-Standard article, Feeney did agree with his attorney’s argument that Joshua Cooley should be released but stayed his ruling until a suitable housing situation could be found.

According to the Redheaded Blackbelt, that could include rotating stays at Eureka motels. Another hearing has been set for May 5.

Feeney made a similar finding back in August of 2018, when he blocked Cooley’s release in a rural Freshwater neighborhood after an outcry from neighbors and opposition from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff William Honsal.


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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Judge Rules Mother of Stabbing Suspect Will Not Stand Trial

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2019 at 10:43 AM

gavel.jpg
Several media outlets are reporting that a Superior Court judge ruled today there was insufficient evidence for the mother of a teenage accused in the fatal stabbing of another boy to stand trial for murder.

According to the Times-Standard’s article, Judge Gregory Elvine-Kreis said the prosecution’s argument that Lorna Jean Leen “acted with ‘implied malice’ or ‘aided and abetted’” her son in the killing was not established.

Leen and her son, who is being tried as a juvenile, were arrested Aug. 10, the day after 16-year-old Brandon Brocious was found fatally stabbed in the Ocean View Cemetery.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

ACLU Lawsuit Accuses St. Joseph Hospital of Transgender Discrimination (Updated with Statement from St. Joseph)

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 9:12 AM

Oliver Knight - ACLU OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
  • ACLU of Northern California
  • Oliver Knight
UPDATE:
St. Joseph Health issued a brief statement last night in response to the civil rights lawsuit filed yesterday alleging transgender discrimination at its Eureka hospital, saying it takes the allegations "very seriously" and is committing its "full attention to investigating this matter."

"At St. Joseph Health, we believe health care is a basic human right and that every individual seeking care should always be treated with compassion and respect," the statement reads. "We have not had a chance to review the facts  of the case, but take these allegations very seriously. We are committing our full attention to investigating this matter."


PREVIOUSLY:
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this morning alleging that St. Joseph Hospital violated the rights of a transgender man by refusing to perform a medically necessary surgery because of his gender identity.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 29-year-old Oliver Knight, of Eureka, seeks unspecified damages and a court order that would prevent the hospital from discriminating against patients on the basis of gender identity or expression.

St. Joseph Hospital spokesperson Christian Hill indicated in an email to the Journal that the hospital is still in the process of “gathering details” about the lawsuit and “will communicate as appropriate with the media.”

According to the lawsuit, Knight was born with female anatomy but over time began to identify as male. He started taking social steps toward transitioning in 2013, such as wearing masculine clothing, and was subsequently diagnosed with gender dysphoria. He began hormone replacement therapy in 2015, had a bilateral mastectomy the following year and scheduled a hysterectomy at St. Joseph Hospital in 2017.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve felt like my body didn’t match my soul,” Knight wrote in a story posted to the ACLU website. “I felt uncomfortable in clothes. I felt disgusting when I showered. Everything felt wrong but it took me a while to figure out why.”

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

'This Doesn't End;' Hundreds Attend Vigils Demanding 'Justice for Josiah'

Posted By on Sat, Mar 16, 2019 at 3:30 PM

Charmaine Lawson is hugged by supporters shortly before addressing students, faculty and the community on the HSU Quad on Friday, the 23-month anniversary of the killing of her son, David Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson is hugged by supporters shortly before addressing students, faculty and the community on the HSU Quad on Friday, the 23-month anniversary of the killing of her son, David Josiah Lawson.

Red hats, scarfs and sweaters enveloped the exterior of the Humboldt County Courthouse and “Justice for Josiah” and “I stand with Charmaine Lawson” signs sat on the steps, as Lawson began to speak.

“We’re not going to stop fighting, this doesn’t end,” she said. “Thursday’s decision doesn’t end. Maggie Fleming, if you can hear me, you have me fighting harder. I’m fighting harder.”

Lawson’s son, David Josiah Lawson, a 19-year-old Humboldt State University sophomore, was fatally stabbed at an off-campus party April 15, 2017, reportedly after being in at least two physical altercations with a 23-year-old McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner. Zoellner was arrested at the scene but a Humboldt County Superior Court Judge dismissed the murder charge, finding there was insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial.

MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
Last November, interim Chief of Police Richard Ehle turned the investigation over to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, saying there was “unequivocal physical evidence” linking a specific suspect to the murder. But the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office sent out a press release on March 13, announcing a criminal grand jury declined to indict anyone in connection to Lawson’s stabbing and “therefore, no charges will be filed in this case.”

According to the press release, the grand jury made up of 19 jurors convened on Feb. 28 and heard testimony from 25 witnesses, including forensic experts and DNA evidence. The decision was later met with protest as a dozen people headed to the steps of the courthouse that night. Zoellner’s attorney also sent out a press release on his behalf, which you can see here.

The Friday night protest began with a song, “Amor Eterno,” played by Octavio Acosta, an HSU student. Then speakers, including Lawson, Eric Rydberg, Michihiro Clark Sugata, Mike Fennell and Shemya Vaughn, talked about their frustrations with the case and called for the community to make change and demand justice.

“We stand in front of a system that has failed,” Rydberg told the crowd. “We need to stand together in solidarity and demand justice. We’re going to stand with Charmaine and we’re not going to stop until we do.”
Charmaine Lawson calls on the community to continue to demand justice for her son. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson calls on the community to continue to demand justice for her son.
Fennell, who has grown close to the Lawson family and attended the preliminary hearing in the case, asked the white community to use its privilege to make change and also expressed the idea of recalling Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming. The crowd cheered.

“The hard work should really be on the white community up here, to help change, we can’t do it alone. It needs to be a collaboration,” Fennell said. “I think it’s time to consider a recall of our district attorney. … Even if the recall doesn’t work, we will weaken her chances in the next election.”

Before the protest ended, Lawson called up all current HSU students to stand with her at the top of the steps. Half of the crowd joined her.

“This is our future behind us,” Lawson said. “They are our future and we have to protect them. We cannot abandon them. … You all are destined for greatness and you will change the world.”
Humboldt State Student Janaee Sykes speaks to the crowd as Charmaine Lawson holds her hands. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Humboldt State Student Janaee Sykes speaks to the crowd as Charmaine Lawson holds her hands.
She then asked one of them to speak. Janaee Sykes, an HSU student and an acquaintance of Josiah’s, told the crowd to continue to fight for Josiah.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” Sykes told the Journal. “It hurts to know that he should be graduating. I just want the community to continue to support Charmaine. We owe it to her.”

Earlier in the day — in what was her first appearance in the county since the grand jury’s decision — Lawson had gone to HSU and spoke on the university quad about Fleming’s handling of the case..

“I’m am going die fighting for my son,” Lawson said. “I’m going to continue to fight.”

HSU University Police Chief Donn Peterson listens while Charmaine Lawson speaks of her son. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • HSU University Police Chief Donn Peterson listens while Charmaine Lawson speaks of her son.
In the quad, people were wiping and sniffling back tears as Lawson spoke about her son and told them stories about his character. Among the crowd stood HSU President Lisa Rossbacher, who, according to Lawson, called her Thursday and voiced genuine frustration and anger about the grand jury’s decision. Lawson then told the retiring Rossbacher not to abandon her son in the time she has left as president. She also urged the crowd to continue to fight for Josiah.

"Do not turn your back on him. Do not abandon him. Stand for him. Fight for him. Because this could have happened to anyone of you," Lawson said.

Lawson plans to attend HSU’s graduation in place of Josiah, who would have been in his last semester at the university. Until then, Lawson will continue to return to Humboldt to work on the Josiah scholarship and the housing program, “Josiah’s House.”

“Thank you all for coming out and supporting me,” she told the crowd last night in front of the courthouse. “If we have to go back to city council, so be it. If we need to shut if down, so be it. We’re not going anywhere. HSU students, I love you all and pray for your safety each and every time you leave campus, I pray for your safe return.”

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Attorney: Zoellner Thanks Jurors, Hopes Police Will Seek 'Truth' in Lawson Investigation

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 4:53 PM

Kyle Zoellner's mug shot. - ARCATA POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Arcata Police Department
  • Kyle Zoellner's mug shot.
After a criminal grand jury targeting him opted not to issue an indictment, a McKinleyville man suspected in the stabbing death of David Josiah Lawson hopes the jury’s decision “will allow law enforcement to investigate the case from a new perspective and seek the truth,” according to a press release from his attorney.

“Kyle Zoellner would like to thank the jurors of Humboldt County for their consideration and commitment to finding the truth in the grand jury matter involving Josiah Lawson,” states the release from Deputy Public Defender Luke Brownfield. “Mr. Zoellner has now been prosecuted twice for a crime he did not commit. Each time the finder of fact has found that there is not even probable cause to believe Mr. Zoellner committed a crime.”

Since Arcata police arrived at the scene of a chaotic house party before dawn on April 15, 2017, to find Lawson, 19, bleeding from a multiple stab wounds, including one to the heart, Zoellner has been the prime suspect. Bloodied and bruised, reportedly from at least two separate fights with Lawson and his friends that night, he was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson’s murder. But just weeks later, a Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed the case, finding prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence to hold him to stand trial on the charge.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Charmaine Lawson Vows to Keep Fighting for Son, Plans to Attend Tomorrow's Vigil

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2019 at 5:55 PM

Aunna Bowllmann holds a sign in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse yesterday, protesting a criminal grand jury's decision not to indict anyone in the unsolved killing of David Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Aunna Bowllmann holds a sign in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse yesterday, protesting a criminal grand jury's decision not to indict anyone in the unsolved killing of David Josiah Lawson.

The mother of slain Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson says she won't give up in her quest to find justice for her son, despite yesterday's announcement that a criminal grand jury convened in the case declined to hand down indictments.


“I am heartbroken by the (grand jury's) decision, my family is heartbroken. We are devastated again,” Charmaine Lawson said in a voicemail left for the Journal. “I’m going to continue to fight for my son. I’m not going anywhere.”

A vigil is planned to commemorate the 23 month anniversary of Lawson's death tomorrow evening in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse. Charmaine Lawson said she plans to attend the vigil and hold a press conference in the near future.

Lawson, a 19-year-old HSU sophomore, was fatally stabbed at an off-campus party in Arcata on April 15, 2017. Kyle Zoellner, a 23 year old McKinleyville man, was arrested shortly after the stabbing but a judge later dismissed the murder charge facing him, citing insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial.


Yesterday, the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office announced that a criminal grand jury decided not to indict anyone in connection with the stabbing after hearing testimony from more than two dozen witnesses.


The Justice for Josiah campaign sent the Journal a statement calling on community members to join the organization in front of the courthouse tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.

“If you are outraged, angered, saddened, numb or disheartened by the recent grand jury decision, take these emotions and propel them into action with us,” reads the statement, which is copied in its entirety below.



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